Sometimes just a kind observation by one of your employees can turn around a customer's day.
One of my best recent shopping experiences happened at the Fairway supermarket near my office. Having a pretty bad head cold, and with an unseasonable snow in the day's forecast, I trudged through the store buying groceries for the weekend (and some Tylenol).
One of the items I unloaded on the checkout belt was a six-pack of Sam Adams beer. I don't often buy beer at the store these days, so I'm always a little taken aback when a cashier asks for my I.D. Being twice the legal drinking age at this point, I can't help but kid myself and wonder if he or she really can't tell how old I am. (Alas, I know most stores now require their employees to ask everyone).
So on that day when the cashier asked to see my driver's license, I managed to chuckle a bit and hand it to her. She looked at the picture, then my face, then the picture again (OK it's an old mug shot). She handed it back to me and started scanning the other items as I took out my shopping bags and began to fill them.
Then she said, without interrupting her work, "It's almost your birthday."
Her observation struck me as so earnest that it got me out of head-down packing mode. I said, "Yes, I guess it is."
"November is my favorite month for birthdays," she said, still scanning. "Actually, the whole season…December too. It's a nice time of year for a birthday."
Now I was engaged in the conversation. "Mine is always right around Thanksgiving, and the family is usually together. I've always loved that." And she replied, "Yeah mine is the week before Christmas and everyone is in such a good mood." And so we exchanged a few more pleasantries, and by this time she was handing me the receipt to sign.
As I rolled the cart toward the exit, it struck me that I was in a good mood. I think I was actually humming. Still with a cold, still facing the prospect of shoveling the driveway later, and still on my way to a busy day at work. But in a good mood, because of one kind observation from the supermarket cashier. Now that's great service, during the holidays or anytime.
One final thought. Many retailers require their front end personnel to interact with all customers, such as asking if they found everything or thanking them for their purchase. But the above interaction was not guided by a standard or procedure. This cashier seemed to have an innate understanding of how to interact with me. In fact, had she looked at my license and exclaimed "It's your birthday next week!" I would likely have responded with just a few words and hoped that she would continue scanning my items (alright I'm surly before work). Rather, I think she could sense my state of mind and was thoughtful enough to return my ID and continue working before she made the birthday observation. Looking back on the situation, her approach was the most effective way of interacting with one particular customer at one given moment. That can't be mandated or turned into a standard operating procedure. But it separates an excellent retail experience from a satisfactory one.
Douglas Madenberg President, RFG
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